Mike Crockart: I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that while the costs of generating nuclear power may well be competitive, there is still considerable work to be done to ensure that the costs-as yet unknown-of decommissioning and waste disposal are included in any calculations and do not end up posing a significant risk to future taxpayers?
Chris Huhne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that matter. The effect of failing to take account of these costs can be seen very dramatically in my own Department's budget for dealing with the nuclear legacy of the very many years when we failed to make adequate provision for waste and decommissioning. It is precisely because of those warnings that we in the ministerial team are absolutely determined that that will not happen again.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Secretary of State implied that my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and the shadow Secretary of State were in some way misleading-in fact, I think he referred to fantasy-in their suggestions about his prejudice against nuclear power. Does he recall his own representation of 5 November 2007, in which he said,
"Ministers must stop the side-show of new nuclear power stations now"?
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman knows very well that my line on new nuclear has always been based on scepticism about the economics. As he knows, no nuclear power station has been built on commercial terms anywhere in the world since Three Mile Island. That may be about to change because of the framework of prospective oil and gas prices and carbon prices. It is up to investors to take those decisions.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The Government believe that despite the current challenging outlook for a binding global agreement on carbon emissions, the EU should be taking a more ambitious leadership role. We will be urging our European partners to agree an early EU move to the 30% reduction target. That would put Europe firmly on a path to a low-carbon economy, stimulating innovation and efficiency and meeting the twin challenges of climate change and energy security. The details of how the EU would implement a higher target are yet to be agreed.
Greg Mulholland: I thank the Minister for that answer and for the leadership that the Government are giving on this issue. Can he give an indication of the realistic possibility of the EU's actually hitting that target; and are other countries as committed to it as we are in this country?
Gregory Barker: I think it is fair to say that we are taking a leadership role. There are concerns among other partners about moving to a more ambitious target, but we will be playing a very positive and constructive role in Europe, and we hope to persuade them of our strong argument.
Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): May I urge the Minister to come to Stoke-on-Trent in the near future to talk to the British Ceramics Confederation and pottery businesses to see how they are implementing their carbon reductions while trying to remain competitive in an increasingly globalised market?
Gregory Barker: I would be very happy to come to Stoke-on-Trent. It is important that as well as having an ambitious target we understand its impact, particularly on manufacturing industry and efficiency in a global marketplace.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): One of the most important European initiatives for our future energy supply and the efficient implementation of renewable energy is the European super-grid. The previous Labour Government equivocated over the super-grid; what is the view of this Government?
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The current carbon price is simply not providing a sufficient incentive for low-carbon UK investment. That is one of the reasons why we are pushing for the EU to increase its target for cutting emissions to a 30% reduction by 2020. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discussed that when he met our European counterparts at the Environment Council on 11 June.
Mr Weir: I thank the Minister for that answer, but is not the truth that the floor in the carbon price is a way of giving a hidden subsidy to new nuclear power stations? Given the difficulties that already exist in the emissions trading scheme with the free permits being given to heavy industry, how will he convince European partners to go along with the idea? If he cannot, is it the Government's intention to introduce a carbon floor price in the UK alone?
Gregory Barker: My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget that we would publish plans for a UK carbon floor price in the autumn. It is a key part of our plans for a transition to a low-carbon economy. We see that transition as an advantage and a competitive economic opportunity for the UK, but critical to that is providing a long-term strategic framework for industry to invest with confidence and certainty.
Mr Speaker: I say to the Secretary of State very gently that that does sometimes happen at Question Time. The fact that something has been raised once has never inhibited several colleagues from wanting to raise it over and over again-nothing new there.
We are determined to increase the UK's security of supply, for precisely the reasons that I gave in answer to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) earlier. Our energy import dependence will increase dramatically over the next 10 years as oil and gas production from the North sea gradually diminishes. We have to work on our renewables and on energy saving to try to ensure that we are energy-secure. One element of that is not just physical security but resilience against price shock.
Christopher Pincher: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for reminding me of his answer, but I shall ask him another question. Does he have any plans to support the development of greater gas storage in Britain, both as a means of enhanced energy security and as a method of developing our gas wholesale market?
Chris Huhne: My hon. Friend will perhaps be reassured to know that yes, plans are under way to increase gas storage. That is likely to continue. There needs to be greater gas storage, and that will help to provide us with greater security of supply.
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): The Government are committed to removing any unnecessary obstacles and allowing the construction of new nuclear power stations to contribute to our energy security and climate change goals, provided that they receive no public subsidy.
Meg Munn: Two weeks after the decision was made, will the Secretary of State finally tell the people of Sheffield whether the decision on Sheffield Forgemasters was taken because of that coalition policy of no public subsidy? Yes or no?
I can assure the hon. Lady that the decision on Sheffield Forgemasters was taken because the particular project concerned was simply not affordable. I refer her to the earlier answer that I gave, stating
that not just the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury but the former one has assured us that there is no money left.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): We are committed to harnessing the tremendous benefits that a successful wave and tidal renewable energy sector can bring to the UK and are considering specific measures, such as marine energy parks, to achieve that.
Mark Menzies: Will the Minister also take steps to ensure that, when it comes to wave and tidal power, Britain leads the world in that technology, and that we do not allow the technology and the jobs to go overseas?
Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman makes a key point. Under the last Government, 95% of the infrastructure and turbines for one of the largest offshore wind projects was built abroad. We cannot allow that to happen, and we have a policy of marine parks to ensure that that does not happen with this nascent, potentially world-beating British technology.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Will the Minister reaffirm the commitment by his Government to the Severn estuary tidal project to make genuine use of the tidal power there? Can he give a progress statement on the consultation to date?
Gregory Barker: I understand the hon. Lady's interest in this potentially important project. Ministers are currently considering the evidence from the two-year cross-Government Severn tidal power feasibility study with a view to deciding whether the Government can support a tidal power scheme on the Severn estuary, and if so, on what terms. I cannot say anything today, but we expect to make an announcement shortly.
Mr Chope: That is a very reassuring answer- [ Laughter. ] Every family in this country is paying extra on its electricity bill to subsidise non-nuclear wind and solar power. Will the Secretary of State ensure that in future each electricity bill spells out in terms the extent of the extra money that that household has to pay to meet this Government's policies in relation to the renewables obligation?
There will be measures in the energy Bill that we will bring forward later in this Session to improve the transparency of electricity and gas bills. As part of the annual energy statement, we are also committed
to ensuring that there is complete transparency about the levels of cross-subsidy for all forms of activity in which the Department is involved.
Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): May I say to the Secretary of State that the free-market philosophy that he increasingly embraces has led to the announcement this week of the abolition of the regional development agencies? There is real dismay across the country about that. How does he think the abolition will help to promote balanced economic growth and green jobs?
Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman knows that we are very committed to ensuring that there is growth across the UK, especially in those regions where unemployment is high. That has been a focus of our activity. I do not think that the regional development agencies in their entirety are necessarily the best way of ensuring that, but we are going ahead with local economic partnerships and a range of other measures to ensure jobs and growth in the regions.
T4.  Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): The Environment Agency has just failed to make a determination on a much delayed application for a 100 KW hydroelectric scheme on the weir at Avoncliff in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the energy potential of the River Avon and how we can prevent the Environment Agency from being an obstacle to making progress in the future?
Chris Huhne: I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those issues. The Environment Agency has a statutory responsibility that it has to discharge in that case and I would not want to comment on its role.
T2.  Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): The Minister will, I hope, be aware that there is real uncertainty and nervousness in the energy industry about the decision to scrap the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which is based in Bristol. What reassurances can he give me that whatever replaces that body will not delay the approval of infrastructure projects and will provide certainty to the industry so that it can plan ahead?
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): I hope the hon. Lady will have seen the reaction from the major energy companies this week to the statement made by the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). It showed that there is absolute clarity. There will not be a delay and there will be a strict time scale for making decisions in these matters. However, we are determined to introduce greater democratic accountability and to ensure that the risk therefore of judicial review can be reduced.
T5.  Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): The loft insulation programme is most welcome from the point of view of saving money for households and for the environmental benefit. However, can the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be a particular focus on the vulnerable and those most susceptible to fuel poverty?
Chris Huhne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Loft insulation is key. It has a very short payback period-less than a year in many cases-and he is absolutely right that there must be a focus, particularly on the fuel-poor. One of the great difficulties in this area is that the energy use among the people in the bottom decile of income distribution is enormously varied-it varies by a factor of six-which makes it particularly difficult to reach them. Insulation and energy-efficiency measures are key to dealing with that problem.
T3.  Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State accept one of the main recommendations of the independent Committee on Climate Change report this week, which is that the Government need to do more to support the development of electric-powered vehicles? If so, does he not agree that it would be a short-sighted cut were the subsidies for the purchase of such vehicles to be removed in the comprehensive spending review?
Chris Huhne: The Government are committed to bringing forward low-emission vehicles. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is an Office for Low Emission Vehicles, which is run jointly by the Department for Transport, my Department and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and we recently had a meeting on the subject to progress the agenda. He can be assured that we are completely committed to it.
Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I urge the Minister, when electricity smart meters are in place, to look strongly at insisting that new build houses have solar panel roofs, especially in social housing, which will help to reduce fuel poverty.
Charles Hendry: We are absolutely determined to move forward rather more quickly on smart metering. The position that we inherited-to roll out smart metering by 2020-was pathetically unambitious, and we are determined to bring it forward by some years. It will bring exactly the benefits that my hon. Friend talks about: encouraging microgeneration, helping with fuel poverty and really helping us to move towards a low-carbon economy.
T7.  Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): According to a recent Conservative party report, "Rebuilding Security", the party advocates "policies designed for hunting" new UK oil reserves as well as offering
"the right incentives to explore for and extract the remaining reserves of oil and gas"
Charles Hendry: I do not agree with the hon. Lady on this issue. We have in place in the North sea the toughest environmental regime in the world. In the light of the tragedy in the gulf of Mexico, we have doubled the number of inspections and increased by half the number of inspectors. We have a very tough regime and we have a national interest in ensuring that we get the best possible return from the natural resources in the North sea.